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BOOK REVIEW

The truth about 'Hillary'? It's not very good.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is frigid. No, she's a lesbian. No, wait: She had a torrid affair with her husband's deputy counsel, Vince Foster, who committed suicide after realizing the first lady could no longer be his ''intimate friend."

There's a danger when you throw together rumor, innuendo, mind reading, and unsubstantiated blind quotes from sources who overtly hate your subject. And it's not just the risk of looking (as Edward Klein does) like an author devoid of credibility.

Klein's attempt at a breathy tell-all about the former first lady and current New York senator, ''The Truth About Hillary," leaves a confusing portrait of contradiction and caricature. Any reader hoping to find even a tiny glimpse into the real woman behind the political facade will be sorely disappointed.

But women, in particular, will find much to be offended by. To Klein, Clinton's major sins seem to be that she's smart, ambitious, kept her own name, and as a young woman wasn't interested in dressing to attract men like him. Early in the book, we learn that as a law student, ''Hillary felt so hopelessly unattractive that she did not bother to shave her legs and underarms, and deliberately dressed badly so that she would not have to compete with more attractive women in a contest she could not possibly win."

A couple dozen pages later, we learn that Bill Clinton's girlfriend had a penchant for ''spinster-lady fashion," ''thick glasses," and hair that ''looked as though it hadn't been shampooed in weeks." Klein shares his view that Clinton ''was a mother, but she wasn't maternal." We learn that her reluctance to ski with a college boyfriend led to ''testy discussions," which ''might have been a substitute for an honest discussion about Hillary's sexual frigidity."

We are told all this by an author who lacks deft storytelling skills, not to mention basic journalistic standards. Bizarrely, Klein -- who also wrote ''The Kennedy Curse" and ''Farewell, Jackie" -- once held high positions at Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine.

In his latest made-for-bestseller-list screed, Klein relies heavily on guilt by association. Because there were radicals and lesbians in Clinton's social circle at Wellesley College, he applies labels to her. Klein also makes many unsubstantiated claims.

There's not much new here. Klein's book stitches together previous work by Hillary haters (such as the late Barbara Olson, author of ''Hell to Pay") with news clips and quotes drawn from respectable biographies (such as David Maraniss's chronicle of Bill Clinton, ''First in His Class"). Klein's own research appears to consist mostly of anonymous interviews of the kind one finds in newspaper tabloids.

There are plenty of serious questions to explore about Clinton, a possible 2008 presidential candidate. A reputation for being calculating, controlling, and secretive has dogged her since her early years as the nation's first lady. Her actual location on the left side of the political spectrum bears exploring as she forges a centrist identity. And yes, her willingness to stick by a husband whose reckless trysts culminated in presidential impeachment proceedings is probably fair game, too.

But Klein's is the cartoon version of Hillary: a homely but ambitious young woman who hitched her star to a charming intellect from Arkansas, fully aware he would cheat on her. Klein asserts that Clinton ''always harbored the grandiose dream of succeeding her husband in the White House, and creating an empire of her own." As evidence, he footnotes a 2004 comment by Bill Clinton suggesting his wife currently has Oval Office ambitions -- hardly a reach into her past to substantiate his claim.

Maybe Klein's book provides Hillary haters with a good adrenaline rush while they're waiting for Rush Limbaugh to come on-air. But many on the right are put off, too. One prominent operative proclaimed the book ''disgusting" and fretted that the fallout would bolster Clinton's presidential prospects.

Klein may have set out to destroy Hillary Clinton. Instead, it will make most readers want to rush to her defense.

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